In her piece in Social Work Today, Kate Jackson describes the concept as follows:

The term trauma-sensitive yoga was coined by David Emerson, E-RYT..to describe the use of yoga as an adjunctive treatment within a clinical context. The practice… aims to help clients regain comfort in their bodies, counteract rumination, and improve self-regulation.

Ongoing studies confirm that yoga and meditation are proven complementary tools to aid trauma survivors in healing, and support a more lasting recovery. A study conducted by the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute found that a regular trauma-sensitive yoga practice reduced the participants’ symptoms of PTSD by 30% (1). According to influential researcher and psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, victims can have difficulty finding meaning in life beyond their trauma experience, saying that “For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present”(2). Yoga is an evidence-based support that can help victims reconnect and reintegrate mentally, physically, and emotionally, thereby bridging the gap between living in past abuse and living in the present. Sadly, due to cost and resource constraints, support services like yoga are often unavailable for the most vulnerable.

Trauma-informed yoga promotes:

  • Awareness in the present moment
  • Development of coping skills, self-control, self-care, and self-regulation
  • An authentic, shared experience
  • Awareness and identification of emotional and physical sensation
  • Exercising personal boundaries, safe experimentation, choice, curiosity, and self-care
  • Increase capacity for emotional and physical intimacy
  • Self-awareness and introspection, behavioral change, cognitive change, self-acceptance, and sense of connection with others (3)

Our program is the first of its kind for Bliss Kid Yoga and SAFE Alliance.  The specially designed classes offer an innovative approach to healing. Each class invites survivors to reconnect with their bodies and minds through guided movement, meditation, and artwork. Unlike traditional therapy, yoga classes do not require any discussion of past experiences.  MRI studies have shown that when a survivor recounts their trauma, they relive it, and their body enters into the same acute stress response they experienced when the trauma occurred(4).  Yoga allows the survivor to stay in the present, and heal. In our program, a teacher guides class by inviting students to participate at their own level and pace. Furthermore, our program includes self-soothing techniques to combat stress, a guided meditation to deepen the internal connection, and an art project that serves as a moving meditation. This approach to teaching trauma-sensitive yoga requires advanced training and extreme mindfulness in each interaction.

The ultimate aim of our trauma-informed youth yoga program is to send these children and teens out into the world with simple, sustainable tools to help them navigate complicated situations and emotions so they can stay safe and continue their path toward healing.

References:

  • David Emerson (2014), Trauma-Sensitive Yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy for survivors of domestic violence: A feasibility study(1)
  • Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD (2015), The Body Keeps the Score, pg. 21(2)
  • David Emerson, 2016(3)
  • Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD(2015), The Body Keeps the Score, pg. 39-43(4)

Further reading:

http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/research.html

https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/report-trauma-informed-yoga-can-help-girls-in-the-juvenile-justice-system-heal

https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/teaching-yoga-to-trauma-survivors

https://childlawcenter.org/trauma-yoga/

http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111714p8.shtml

Written By, Melissa Jones, Board VP

Melissa is a Special Education Administrator in Hays ISD. She is also a key volunteer with our SAFE programming and the Vice President of our board.